Physicians—MDs and DOs—are struggling to survive, both professionally and personally. We are at high risk for personal, professional, and financial loss. We trained 11+ years and invested (by my account) half a million dollars’ worth of time, opportunity cost, education, and personal freedom to achieve the high goal of physician healer in our professions and in our community.
Then, we found mounting stress from every angle that is constantly increasing in magnitude and intensity.
Physicians—like all caregivers, parents, grandparents alike—tend to put their responsibilities for the care of others before their personal responsibilities to themselves. I call this caregiver/physician syndrome. Most neglect their own health, diet, and exercise for decades to their own detriment. The physician suicide rate has been estimated at 300 to 400 physicians per year, since the first report in 1958.
Physician suicide is a public health crisis as one million Americans lose their physician to suicide every year. It is the primary cause of death in male residents and the second highest killer of female residents after cancer, as reported by Pamela Wible, MD, an expert advocating ideal medical practice.
Lack of autonomy, assembly-line medicine, blaming physicians with words like “burnout,” and graduates who cannot find residencies, are all factors in the high suicide rate. Hospitals, training programs, and med schools cover up suicides to avoid “bad press.”
Find your motivation. Is it power, achievement, money, pleasure, family, giving, religion, or even guilt? Pick your stimulus toward health. Planning, action, persistence, and time will improve your physical and mental health.
Put your well-being first. As a physician and person, you can’t help anyone if you’re not stable, happy, and growing. William Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true,” in Hamlet. Steve Jobs, cofounder and former CEO of Apple said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
Make a plan. Plan your yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. “All successes begin with self-discipline. It starts with you,” says actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Prioritize a vegetable-based diet, get an hour of exercise daily, and avoid poisons/toxins like concentrated sugars, caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs.
Persistence pays. It took me four months of persistent phone calls to a radio station manager before he would grant my request for a meeting to pitch a radio show idea. I kept calling back month after month and then I finally insisted that I come in. Since 2002, I’ve hosted “Your Health Matters,” on that station. Similarly, building a solo practice from the ground up in 2002, took three years and three part-time jobs until it could fly on its own.
Monitor your progress. Follow your passion and your plan. There will be setbacks and dead ends. Don’t quit. Examine, strategize, readjust, and persist, while you keep your health regimen.
You only have one body, mind, and spirit. You must live there and only there. Manage your risks and get healthy. Health is a pursuit, not a destination. Make yourself a healthy home. Then, you can help others do the same, teach and lead by example. Physician, heal thyself.
Craig M. Wax, DO, is a primary care physician in Mullica Hill, N.J. How do you keep yourself healthy while practicing?
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